State Board of Education tightens charter application process

State Board of Education tightens charter application process

- in Education, Legislative Watch

The North Carolina State Board of Education approved measures Thursday that will add rigor to the charter school application process and temporarily delay plans to renew the charter of a controversial school serving at-risk students in Morehead City.

The new application guidelines are designed to provide the board and the Department of Public Instruction with more detailed information about new charter schools. One of the more contentious steps in the process is determining the impact a new charter school has on local school systems.

For the first time the impact statement requires both applicants and local systems to answer very specific questions, but Board Chairman Bill Harrison said he did not think they go far enough and would like to revisit the regulations at a later date.

In Pamlico County, he said, 17 to 18 percent of students are in charter schools. “At what point does that exodus result in the school system not being able to provide the type of education it needs to (provide),” he said.

“That’s what we’re trying to sort out,” he said. “Is the impact a resegregation of the schools?”

In addition to the impact statement, the new guidelines move the board’s deadline for approving applications from March to January, thereby giving applicants an additional two months to get their schools up and running. Also new is a letter of intent, which is designed to give state officials an idea of what to expect before large numbers of applications land on their desks.

“The State Board of Education’s changes to the charter school application represent a small but needed step toward ensuring that the charter application process results in the selection of charter schools that are ready to serve North Carolina’s students,” said Matt Ellinwood, Policy Analyst for the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project.

“However” he added, “many more changes are needed to provide clearer and higher standards for prospective charter school applicants.”

In a separate decision, the board delayed the renewal of a charter for Cape Lookout Marine Science High School. Harrison said he wanted to establish a test-taking threshold for the school, one that would guarantee that a certain number of students take end-of-course exams or their equivalent.

He said the board would discuss the threshold and vote on the renewal next week. It is one of four new requirements requested by the board. The others deal with enrollment standards and financial concerns, including restrictions on the fund balance.

Located in Morehead City, Cape Lookout now has a largely revamped school board, one of many efforts to improve upon a track record replete with financial woes, enrollment issues and low test scores.

The situation was so severe that at the end of July, the Board of Education refused to renew the school’s charter. A court decision allowed the school to stay open. In the interim, a new group of school leaders has embarked on fundraising efforts and put policies in place aimed at avoiding problems of the past.